As I started gearing up for the start of the new school year this week (yes, we start early here), I did a lot of thinking about how to balance everyone’s needs (including my own), keep peace and harmony on the homefront, and set everyone up for success. I’ll be jumping back into writing the day the kids go back, and at the end of my work hours, I’ll be helping them adjust to their new, more complicated – and in the case of the high school sophomore in all the AP classes – more copious homework, which will naturally create some stress, and make that peace and harmony even more elusive. We’ll all be working hard, so making sure we have time for “life” (all that stuff that isn’t work) and play becomes both challenging and critical. Like most everyone in our hectic, noisy world, we’ll be questing for the Holy Grail of modern American culture: Work/Life Balance.
We’ve all heard the phrase. It’s fairly rampant in the corporate and academic worlds, is a popular topic on the Net and with the media. Google it and you’ll find training programs, practical tips and arguments about whether or not such a mythical state of harmony actually exists.
Those of us working in the creative arts or running independent business ventures are equally – if not more – challenged in this area. It’s hard to keep work and life separate when you work out of the home. And when you’re carrying your work around in your brain awake and asleep, negotiating that “balance” really gets tricky.
Honestly, for me, this has become a real conundrum. Yes, I want to feel good about myself, my accomplishments and the way I’m living life. The bar feels pretty high though, and just adds more anxiety into the “I must do it all and have it all” mix. I’ve been struggling with this for the last couple of years, until I suddenly realized that maybe I was approaching it from the wrong direction altogether.
Think about the word balance. In can mean a number of things in the context of this phrase: an opposition of equal forces, harmony, emotional stability. It doesn’t have to mean an equal division of time between work and play. Let’s face it, that’s not happening anytime soon for most of us!
Besides, anyone who has ever done yoga knows that balance isn’t a fixed situation. Even if you can pull off a perfect tree pose, you’re not going to hold it indefinitely. You start to wobble, so you fix your eye on a focus point and steady yourself for a second…then your knee starts to shake. So you slide your foot a little lower, maybe change the angle of your arms just slightly. If you don’t make those adjustments, it’s all over and you’re going to fall out of pose. I’ve heard the same thing about surfing and skateboarding – two activities that require a lot of balance. It isn’t about getting up and locking into one position for the ride. It’s about adjusting yourself to the flow of the current, to the unfolding of the wave or the curve of the ramp, feeling your way as you go. I think applying that as a metaphor for life might help relieve any sense of failure we experience when work gets in the way of life – or vice versa.
One of the websites I visited suggested that the best way to approach work/life balance is to begin by acknowledging that it will change from day to day. Some days (or weeks), meeting your professional obligations – or personal goals – will require extra work time. But once the deadline or goal is met, consider taking some down time to rest and recharge. Even an hour or two, if that’s all you can manage, of doing something you love (other than work) can help you refocus and feel present in your life.
Sometimes, the reverse is true. Colds, broken washing machines or kids with super long holiday vacations may interrupt our regularly scheduled work programming. We can either beat ourselves up for that or surrender to what needs to happen and arrange for alternative work time at the first opportunity. As my husband’s guru of a college philosophy teacher often said: Simply allow to happen what wants to happen relative to the totality of the situation. Because fighting it just leads to chasing your own tail.
We’ve all heard the question – “Do you work to live or live to work?” When we love what we do, when we feel a sense of accomplishment and appreciation for our work, it becomes easier to dance with both sides of that equation. Personally, I think dancing through life sounds a lot better than achieving perfect balance, especially if you take the first definition my computer assigns to the word: steady state on a narrow base. Frankly, that doesn’t sound like any fun at all.
What do you think about the work/life balance issue? Any brilliant ideas you want to share?